Town Hall Hours
Most of us have been playing close attention to the Commonwealth’s budget crisis. As a result of reduced income, the legislature is considering the use of legalized gambling to offset and increase our state’s revenue. Based on what other states are doing with gaming revenues, it appears to be a “sure thing.” Unfortunately, there are some downsides to this issue. A certain segment of the population can, and based on past experience, will become addicted to gambling, creating social problems. There may also be a reduction in funds earned by the State Lottery Commission as people seek out other types of gambling and play fewer lottery games, thereby reducing income to cities and towns.
The Norfolk County Anti-Crime Council on the impact of gambling recently held a seminar. The presenters were Christine Rielly, the Executive Director of Research on Gambling for Harvard Medical School and Father Richard McGowan of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.
Ms. Reilly spoke in detail about research that has been done across the nation on the impact gambling has, and in particular, the potential impact.
Gambling opportunities for Massachusetts residents have increased significantly during the past ten years with the introduction of more lotto and instant games with multi-million-dollar prizes; land-based casinos in the border state of Connecticut and floating casinos based in certain Massachusetts coastal communities; an increase in the number of simulcast races at racetracks; more sporting events on cable TV; greater media attention to the stock market due to recent numerous and pronounced fluctuations; and easy accessibility to Internet gambling – especially day trading – from home, office or school.
Increased availability of gambling increases the number of individual cases of problem and compulsive gambling. Current estimates show that between 205,000 and 310,000 Massachusetts residents have experienced gambling problems. Between 66,000 and 90,000 adults have gambled compulsively.
The common stereotype of a problem gambler has been that of a white male in his 40’s or 50’s. Today we know that both sexes, of all ages and nationalities, always have had gambling problems. In 1991, it was estimated that one-third of all those with a gambling disorder were female. However, in areas of the country with a strong lottery or casino presence, indications were that the ratio between female and male problem gamblers is balancing out. Research shows that women tend to develop gambling problems later in life than men. Although the gambling careers of females tend to be shorter, the consequences of female problem or compulsive gambling are as devastating for women as they are for men. Despite the narrowing of the gambling gender gap, women currently represent ten to twenty percent of those in problem gambling treatment.
Teenagers gamble pathologically at a rate of 2.3 to 5.4%, or about two and one-half times that of the general adult population. Between ten and seventeen percent of all Massachusetts youth – or 57,000 to 97,000 teenagers – have experienced a gambling problem, most often through card playing, lottery games and sports betting. The phenomenon of adolescent problem gambling is not well understood nor fully addressed by parents, teachers and administrators. Most teens are introduced to gambling by friends, parents or other family members. This is first generation of young people living in an environment where many forms of gambling are socially acceptable. At least 78% of Massachusetts’s youths have gambled by age 18. It is unclear what effects – of any – this will have on prevalence rates of disordered gambling among young people.
Father McGowan presented a brief historical review of legalized gambling throughout our nation’s history. McGowan served on the recent Gaming Commission created by former Gov. Swift to review and evaluate the impact on increasing legalized gaming in Massachusetts. The Commission studied four major areas: Regulation of Gambling; Economic Development; Fiscal Impacts and Social and Cultural Impacts. Father McGowan explained to us that most operators of establishments call themselves “Gaming Executives.” Most people think of it as gambling.
Time will tell if we change our “Gaming Systems” and the impact it will have. The truth of the matter is that the majority of people are either non-gamblers or social gamblers. According to studies, about six percent of the population is problem gamblers, while about 1.9 % are compulsive gamblers. (Sometimes compulsive gambling is called the invisible addiction).
Nationally, it is estimated that problem gambling costs society at least $5 billion a year in health care and social services, creditor losses and decreased productivity. Research with Gamblers Anonymous members and individuals entering treatment indicates that gambling problems in the work place eventually result in lower productivity, absenteeism and theft. Compulsive gambling significantly impacts the criminal justice system. Many compulsive gamblers have committed illegal acts to either continue gambling or pay off gambling-related debt. Crimes committed by illegal acts to either continue gambling or to pay off gambling-related debt. Crimes committed by compulsive gamblers often involve embezzlement, fraud, or writing checks on accounts with insufficient funds. Many gambling-related crimes go unreported or surface as a result of another transgression. A survey of Gamblers Anonymous members found that 47% had engaged in insurance fraud or thefts.
Help for problem gamblers, their family members and significant others are available through the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, which provides education, information, advocacy and referral. The Mass. Council operates a free, confidential helpline (1-800-426-1234) for those negatively impacted by problem or compulsive gambling. Help is also available from support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. http://www.gamblersanonymous.org